Wild winds are fanning bushfires across NSW and Queensland, with fresh emergency warnings issued on Monday afternoon for fires both states.
Firefighters were battling strengthening south-westerly winds as they tried to contain 47 blazes active across NSW – 21 of them uncontained. In Queensland, there were 83 active fires on Monday afternoon.
Just before 2pm on Monday, Queensland Fire and Emergency urged residents at Ballandean, south of Stanthorpe, to leave ahead of worsening conditions in the area.
“A fast-moving, dangerous fire is travelling in an easterly direction from the New England Highway towards Girraween. It is expected to impact Rees Road, Eukey Road and Pyramids Road,” the service said.
“The fire could have a significant impact on the community.”
LEAVE NOW: BALLANDEAN (south of Stanthorpe) bushfire as at 1.50pm Mon 9 Sept: https://t.co/jeEeAzEYca
— Qld Fire & Emergency (@QldFES) September 9, 2019
The NSW Rural Fire Service was also battling an uncontained blaze at Shark Creek, north-east of Grafton. Residents in Wooloweyah, Angourie and Yamba have been warned to monitor conditions for smoke and embers.
“The fire continues to burn in a north-easterly direction towards the villages of Angourie and Wooleweyah … under very strong south-westerly winds,” a spokesman said on Monday.
The 5300-hectare blaze has also breached containment lines to the north-west and is moving towards Gulmarrad.
“Residents need to seek shelter … it is too late to leave,” the RFS spokesman said.
By lunchtime on Monday, Armidale was experiencing winds of up to 40km/h and gusts of up to 60km/h, pushing the Bees Nest blaze towards the north-east.
A watch and act alert remained in place for that fire, which has razed 63,000 hectares – twice the size of the Sydney city council area.
There is another watch and act alert for a fire at Drake, near Tenterfield, which has burnt 32,000 hectares.
RFS deputy commissioner Rob Rogers said those two fires were “just absolutely enormous”.
This crazy September weather is getting crazier. As firefighters battle blazes across the state's north, we're now getting reports of light snow and sleet on the fireground near Armidale. We just want rain. #nswrfs pic.twitter.com/l0dMldYaPU
— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) September 9, 2019
The RFS confirmed four homes had been destroyed in Drake, along with one at Tenterfield. Another home was damaged in Lidsdale, while 22 outbuildings were razed.
“It’s going to be another tough day for firefighters,” Mr Rogers told ABC TV.
“These winds, coupled with the underlying drought affecting much of NSW, has made firefighting extremely difficult.
“Unfortunately, we think that the property loss will climb from what we understand lost so far, but it will take some time until crews can get in there and tally those costs.”
Armidale, Clarence Valley, Glen Innes, Inverell, Tenterfield, Uralla and Walcha local government areas have been declared natural disaster zones, allowing residents to access state and federal financial support.
The head of the RFS for the Northern Tablelands, Chris Wallbridge, told the ABC that the fires that ripped through Tenterfield at the weekend were the most challenging he had experienced in 20 years of service.
Superintendent Wallbridge said crews would tackle the fires near Drake and Ebor for the next few days.
“[After Monday] winds will drop off for the rest of the week to give us an opportunity to try and get those in the box before the next round of wind next weekend,” he said.
Further north, 47 properties have been declared damaged or destroyed by firest in Queensland, including the historic Binna Burra Lodge in the Gold Coast hinterland.
Queensland Fire and Emergency Services predictive services inspector Andrew Sturgess said the state was in the midst of the worst bushfire threat in recorded history.
Fire danger had never been so severe so early in spring, Mr Sturgess said – an omen of what lay ahead for summer.
Locals who fled their Gold Coast hinterland homes to escape the Binna Burra inferno were allowed back into the area on Monday to assess the damage.
But Emergency Services Minister Craig Crawford said the dangers were far from over.
“I think we are through the worst of it, but we still have a couple of days to go before it really starts to cool down,” he said.
Early on Monday, the Gold Coast hinterland fire was burning on both sides of Binna Burra Road, south of Summerville Road, Queensland Fire and Emergency Services said.
Officials say 20 properties have been completely destroyed by fires across the state, and another 27 have been damaged, including the historic Binna Burra Lodge in the Gold Coast hinterland.
Fires are now also burning north of Rockhampton, near Gympie and west of Toowoomba. No homes are under threat in those areas.
Fire bans remain in place across most of the state, which is tinder-dry. Eleven Queensland schools were also closed on Monday.
The federal and state governments have promised assistance to those affected by the fires, including replenishing already dangerously low-water supplies around Stanthorpe.
The Insurance Council of Australia has also declared the situation a “catastrophe”, ensuring victims’ claims will be given priority.
Meanwhile Queensland police have warned anyone caught deliberately lighting fires face life imprisonment after children lit a blaze at Pimpama on the Gold Coast on Sunday.
It was extinguished before it could cause any damage.